Sign study gearing up
Bethel’s newly formed Committee for Sign Ordinance Reform sat down and got to work Tuesday evening.
Members Paul LeGault (chairman), Frank Delduca (vice chairman), Kathleen Thrall, Ron Savage, Lauri Windsor and Don Bennett (Richard Blanco did not attend) spent much of their first meeting attempting to clarify the committee’s charge and determining how best to go about meeting it.
The committee was formed as the result of ongoing complaints about the town’s current, 16-year-old sign ordinance, especially that its provisions on directional (a.k.a. “wayfaring”) signs are overly restrictive and not flexible enough to allow businesses to effectively attract customers.
At town meeting last month voters approved the formation of the committee, and the allocation of $10,000 to pay for a professional signs consultant to study the present ordinance and come up with ways to improve it.
Town Manager Jim Doar, in a two page description of the role of a consultant, described the purpose of the study as follows: “To simplify wayfaring throughout the Town for vehicle and transit users through development of a comprehensive signage system suitable for immediate implementation. The plan will facilitate travel, commerce and visitation to and within the Town, while strengthening historic identity and sense of place for districts, neighborhoods, and signature destinations.”
The committee’s deadline for doing this for the directional component is Sept. 14.
On Tuesday LeGault offered his own summary of the road ahead.
“I look at the evolution the next weeks as going through three major stages. One being looking at current state — What do we have in the current state? What do we have from Maine DOT standpoint?
The next step would be looking at what the undesirables are. I think the folks at the public forum pretty much stipulated what those undesirables associated with the current sign ordinance are.
“So I think we need to capture those and understand where everybody is coming from, and where we as a committee do to truly address all the issues that are out there with this modification or amendment.”
But the immediate task for the committee is to review applications for the consultant position and make a recommendation to the selectmen.
The timeframe is tight. Applications are due in the town office by the end of the business day Friday, and committee members are to review them over the weekend and be prepared with a recommendation in time for the selectmen’s meeting at 7 p.m. Monday.
After discussion Tuesday, the committee listed the characteristics they would like to see in the consultant, among them: experience, including a history of having worked successfully with MDOT; strong problem solver and facilitator; flexibility: adequate availability and willingness to communicate electronically.
Ordinance “is a breeze.”
While the committee focused Tuesday largely on such matters of process in the service of better regulations, Delduca raised a back-to-basics consideration – the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of individual signs themselves and the manners in which they are used.
“I spent 12 years in the sign industry, in and out of sign shops every day, he told his fellow committee members. “I was a sign supplier – I supplied sign makers with supplies, so I saw every kind of sign you can imagine, I saw the applications they were used for. I have a bit of an understanding of signs .... about how they work, how they’re sold and how people have used them in the past.
“And as far as sign codes and ordinances and requirements to use signs, this sign code is a breeze.”
Delduca cited as an example of ineffective signage letters that are too small to be easily read at speed and distance.
LeGault replied: “When we define the language we are going to amend into the sign ordinance, we will have an opportunity to discuss all those specifics.”